Olde Man’s Tavern: Wilpon’s Place

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Within the New York City area are many sports franchises. The NHL supports three teams (Rangers, Islanders and New Jersey Devils). The NBA (Knicks and New Jersey Nets) has two teams that call the area home. Two NFL franchises (Giants and Jets), although playing in East Rutherford, NJ claim the Big Apple as their residence. The MLS (Red Bulls) even finds its way into the life of a New Yorker. And who can forget the 27-time World Series champion New York Yankees. It’s the “other” baseball team in New York where the Tavern rests this week.

Going from San Francisco to the original home of the Giants, New York City, is a trip of 2,922 miles. The owner of the Metropolitans is Fred Wilpon. Some may know how Wilpon came to be the owner, but others may not. A quick tour.

In 1980, Wilpon purchased one percent of the team. In 1986, he was able to increase his stake from that one to fifty percent while Nelson Doubleday, Jr. held the other half. In 2002, Doubleday, Jr. sold his half to the Wilpon family for $391 million. Since his original stake in 1980, Wilpon has served as the team president, CEO and Chairman of the Board.

One thing I don’t believe the Wilpon family was ready for was how rough the road would be having NYC as its home. Everyone knows the New York fans, regardless of franchise, expect a winner. As of late, that hasn’t exactly developed at Citi Field. Just the opposite. I believe the Mets have deteriorated before our very eyes.

One aspect that will throw a red light in any franchise’s growth is lack of continuity at the top. I’m not referring to Wilpon or his son Jeff who serves as COO. I’m referring to the brass within the Mets such as manager (never a job title that holds much security) and general manager. Since this century commenced, the Mets will now be on their fifth manager after the recent announcement that Jerry Manuel would not be returning for the 2011 season. The list of those that have managed the Mets in that time frame isn’t all that bad. Bobby Valentine, Art Howe, Willy Randolph and Manuel. Valentine and Randolph hold winning records while Howe and Manuel don’t.

Manuel replaced Randolph after the infamous 2007 Mets collapse. The following season, the almost exact scenario occurred, but under Manuel. Still, despite rumors of his ouster, Manuel was retained.

But it doesn’t stop there. The general manager oversees the entire work within an organization. Despite the fact Omar Minaya, also relieved from his duties on the same day Manuel was served his walking papers, had served as GM since 2005, the next person hired to the position will be GM #4. Steve Phillips and Jim Duquette (another sore subject in NYC) were employed to the position pre-Minaya.

To further illustrate this point, look at the Mets since 2000. Two playoff appearances. They won the NL East in 2006 and was the Wild Card in 2000. The 2000 season brought us the “Subway Series” against the Yankees and 2006 saw the Mets bow out in the NLCS to the St. Louis Cardinals. Since 2006, nothing. A couple of close calls, but no playoff showings. And how can anyone maintain a positive attitude when there is constant speculation you’re on the way out the door? Such is the life in the fishbowl called New York City. It’s just something in which you have to build an immunity.

That criticism doesn’t only pertain to managers, GMs and players. The owners are held accountable for the teams. At a recent “gathering” in which father and son addressed the New York media, both expressed how the Mets have recently performed.

"“We failed,” Jeff Wilpon said.“We’re as disappointed as our fans,” Fred Wilpon said. “It costs us more. But we’re just as disappointed.”"

An admission. Something you most likely wouldn’t hear if not for the fact that the Mets are in New York. There’s a large fanbase to answer to there. Not only the Yankees. You also wouldn’t hear that from a “small market” team. You’d hear the “we have no payroll” line.

Ah, yes. The cost factor. That brings about another “issue” the Wilpon family has had to deal with this decade. Enter Bernie Madoff.

Fred Wilpon had invested a significant amount of dough with Madoff. When Madoff’s Ponzi scheme collapsed in 2008, it was rumored that Wilpon may have to sell the team due to the tremendous amount of dollars lost. $700 million lost according to author Erin Arvedlund who penned the book “Too Good to Be True” which outlines the beginning and end of Madoff’s dealings. Wilpon refuted the losses as being that extreme.

Actually, no losses occurred at all. According to evidence that was introduced into court show that the Mets (under the name Mets Limited Partnership) cleared almost $48 million. That fact could lead to MLP’s inclusion in a suit as those that lost money under Madoff’s misdealings are seeking restitution against those that did come out ahead.

But bad investments also hold true on the real baseball side of things. As the Wilpons still search for a new manager and new GM, those that were gifted with extensive contracts will have to find the means to fit in the new regime’s puzzle. This past season, the Mets doled out in the neighborhood of $118 million in player salaries alone. Among those “bad investments” are Oliver Perez ($12 million). You could also include the likes of Carlos Beltran ($18.5 million), Jason Bay ($16 million) and even ace Johan Santana ($22.5 million). Those four players alone stand to clear $69 million next season. Even worse could be that the Mets may be looking at a total payroll of over $142 million in 2011. That includes the option of $11 million on Jose Reyes, the $14 million due David Wright and another $11.5 million due Francisco Rodriguez.

Santana has landed on the DL each of his last two seasons. Beltran had surgery in January on his nagging right knee. He didn’t return to the team until July 15 and the club considered filing a grievance due to the procedure being done without the team’s consent. The Mets wished for another (third) opinion before any surgery was to take place. Bay simply did not live up to expectations placed on such a large contract of four-years, $66 million with a $17 million vesting option (or $3 million buyout) for 2014. The Rodriguez deal is yet another “eyesore” on the organization the Wilpon’s have had to contend with during the last handful of painful seasons.

There are a few pieces. David Wright, Ike Davis, Angel Pagan, Mike Pelfrey, but this all has the makings of another rebuilding mode for the Wilpons and their beloved Mets. All the cards are now in the Wilpon’s hands. Find a new GM. Currently, reports have linked Sandy Alderson to the position. Then, a new manager.

It’s hard to take over the “table” from the Yankees in NYC. Thus far, all efforts have not produced the desired outcome. No winning. Well, the Wilpon’s have managed to equal one thing to the Yanks…much money spent.

And the Wilpon’s and Mets fans have nothing to show for it.